When I reach Bolshoy Kadil at 7.30pm, it’s dark and cold.
Having no clear idea of where the National Hostel is, I snoop around the largest group of buildings. A light in a window signals life but as I approach the house a watchdog starts barking loudly and before long the porch light snaps on.
A woman appears and ushers me in, out of the cold. My cover blown, I sheepishly accept, wondering if the barking dog will follow us into the warm glow, but she orders him to stay in the shed.
She’s an older lady, though I can’t really be sure of her age. She says that her name is Natasha and I can see that this is her home.
I wonder if she runs the hostel, and if the other buildings are dormitories, shut up for the winter. But when I try to ask her about this, she explains in no uncertain terms that she doesn’t speak English, and I don’t speak Russian, and so we should just forget about it. Deciding it best not to annoy my host, I sit down obediently, just as the dog had done.
Like the man in FanSport she sighs as she takes care of me, as if I am both a burden and a pleasure. She serves me a dinner of meat, sauerkraut and potatoes, a cup of milk with rye bread, and finishes the meal off with a chewy caramel sweet and a hot cup of earl grey tea to wash it down. Royal service indeed, considering that I just blew in on the wind.
Having met only a handful of people since leaving Listvyanka, I’m keen to make conversation, on whatever level. But, grateful of her hospitality, and fearing another telling off, I decide it best to eat up and shut up.
After dinner, she points me to the spare bed, with clean sheets, and we go our separate ways shortly thereafter. Natasha, Marta the cat, the dog that stayed in the cold shed, and I.